Baptism: A Gift Remembered (But Never Repeated)

baptism water

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

For much of my life growing up, I attended a Southern Baptist school.  Though I was baptized United Methodist and we had faithfully attended a UM church in my earliest years, my parents sent me to an SBC school for middle and high school.  For much of this time, mostly because of my parents’ work, we did not attend church regularly.  That makes the next fact all the more interesting.  My parents could have saved a lot of money on my education had we been members of the church to which my school was attached.  A LOT of money.  But we never joined.  We thought about it, but never could pull the trigger.

For me, a major part of my lack of interest in joining that baptist church is that I would have to be re-baptized (and dunked, of course, because baptist water has such a small amount of grace that it takes a whole tub).  Mind you, I had no sacramental theology of which to speak at this time.  I simply knew that I had been baptized, and I felt their insistence that I be re-baptized to join their congregation was deeply wrong.  It was an instinct, a powerful instinct, more than a conscious thought.

Later, I would learn that historically Christians do not re-baptize, but instead recognize “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” as we have at least since the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was adopted in the 4th century.  As the title of Stookey’s excellent book on baptism underscores, baptism is Christ’s Act in the Church.  Because it is a gift that the Triune God shares in God’s holy church, to repeat it would be to insult the One who hovered over the waters to make us new creatures.  In short, it would suggest that Christ’s work was ineffective, or that he went back on his promise.

One of the worship practices I greatly appreciate in the United Methodist tradition is the remembrance of baptism, in which the congregation is invited to touch water that has been prayed over and recall God’s claim upon them.  This is done often, though not exclusively, on the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany, commonly known as Baptism of the Lord Sunday.

Perhaps I appreciate this so much because I am a forgetful person.  I am, in the words of my favorite hymn, “prone to wander…prone to leave the God I love.”  And so it helps, now and again, to center down, to come back to the natal waters, and remember that God’s claim upon me is more powerful than my spiritual dementia.

Baptism is never repeated, but it is to be remembered, to be claimed.  Like a tattoo or a branding iron, God’s mark does not go away.  But it can dull or fade over time, and when that happens, a few drops is enough to wake us up, to jerk us back to reality, to bring us back to that strange and wonderful river of grace that makes us Christ’s own.

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4 thoughts on “Baptism: A Gift Remembered (But Never Repeated)

  1. I was baptized 3 times. As an infant, the officiating pastor first baptized me “Alice” instead of “Hollis” (he was elderly and heard my Mother incorrectly when she told him my name). My Mother corrected him, and he did it again.

    Later, as a young adult, I received an outpouring of God’s justifying grace, and I responded to a spontaneous altar call issued by a man who is now a retired United Methodist bishop. I was immersed that time. I didn’t know better, and the future bishop did not ask those who responded to the altar call if they had already been baptized.

    I STILL believe in ONE baptism, however. I’ve learned my theology well. I am also grateful that God pours out grace upon us more than once.

    Do you think God will call me “Alice” when I get to Heaven, Drew? I sometimes wonder…

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